Suicide by asphyxiation is what the above ad from Hyundai seems intended to communicate. According to NBC News, the ad was intended for the Internet for U.K. audiences; today the carmaker reportedly apologized for the ad and has pulled it. Not surprisingly, the ad has evoked emotional reactions. Science author Ben Goldacre described the ad as being “almost surreally misguided.” The most gut-wrenching response, however, came from London-based advertising copywriter Holly Brockwell, whose father apparently committed suicide in the same way as depicted in the ad. She writes, “When your ad started to play, and I saw the beautifully-shot scenes of taped-up car windows with exhaust feeding in, I began to shake. I shook so hard that I had to put down my drink before I spilt it. And then I started to cry.” How awful.
The ad was apparently intended to inform consumers that the ix35 SUV produces only water vapors from its exhaust. So why use this approach? Didn’t anyone at Hyundai’s agency, Innocean, stop to think about how appropriate this narrative was? That it was possibly in bad taste?
As we’ve seen in the Ford India ads in which creatives “showed off [their] creative chops,” advertising art directors and copywriters are often compelled to demonstrate that they can push the creative envelope. No doubt the creatives at Innocean thought that this execution was clever, probably even hilarious. But in “pushing the creative envelope” it seems that creatives need to remember that they need not push the moral envelope. One look at the apparent suicide note that Brockwell posted on her blog should be enough to convince them of that.
Thanks to Ian Lueninghoener for the tip.
Update (April 26, 2013): The ad seems to have been pulled from personal YouTube channels, so Information Ethics Report seems to be one of the last places you can still see it.
Sources: Holly Brockwell, NBCNews.com, Ben Goldacre, YouTube.com